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The Key to Having It All? Try Not to 'Have It All'

Photograph by Twenty20

As moms, we often hear the question: Can women really have it all? Can we balance a career and family and be kickass with both?

Amy Westervelt's response in her essay, "Having It All Kinda Sucks," hits home for me. In the essay, Westervelt describes the challenges of being a working mother of young kids. At the end of her essay—which manages to be heartfelt, humorous and honest as well as a call for change—she implores: "Let's redefine 'having it all,' or better yet let each woman define for herself what the best version of her life might look like."

Right now, my family is in the awkward, lovely, exciting and shit-your-pants-scary process of redefining "having it all."

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Last fall, my husband went from having a demanding job outside the home to a less stressful one that he mostly performs from home.

While we're still jostling our finances around, this shift has completely revolutionized our lives—or at the very least, mine.

For the first time in those seven years, I feel like I can breathe again.

Before, since I work from home, I was responsible for carting our kids to appointments and activities. I greeted my son when the bus rolled by every afternoon at 4. I managed our Mound of Laundry (anything so mountainous deserves its own capitalized designation), all the grocery shopping, as well as my paid work. As my career began to sprout, it became harder and harder to keep all the parts moving. All it took was one feverish kid or a snow day and all the pieces came tumbling down, landing right next to the crusty dishes from breakfast.

Life isn't perfect now (the Mound of Laundry is still here), but it's so much more manageable. For the first time since our son was born seven years ago, I can honestly say that the childrearing responsibilities are close to equal. My husband and I share chores like shopping, cooking and preschool drop-offs and pick-ups. When one of the kids is sick or it's a vacation week, we take shifts. For the first time in those seven years, I feel like I can breathe again.

Our kids are benefitting from the change too, and my husband is less stressed. Our son squeals with delight on the days we both greet him after school in the afternoon before he begins demanding snacks and screen time.

There are sacrifices, of course. I'm working more to counterbalance the financial hit that came from my husband's job change. We've sold things we couldn't justify owning, and trimmed our bills down. We've mostly given up our restaurant habit, which I don't miss because we have the time to cook more now.

Now that I'm not trying to "have it all," life is slower—and better. I don't panic when it's a school vacation week or a sick day, wondering how I'm going to get my work done or make the time to exercise. Because I'm not alone in it. I have a partner. The simmering resentments I used to have about the inequalities in our parenting have dwindled.

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And now I'm wondering what else we might rethink. We could live in a smaller house, which would soak up some of the financial strain. We could get by with one car if we needed to. When we prioritize what's really important—our family, our health, pursuing our passions—there are an awful lot of things that can fall to the wayside. For us, it's not so much about having it all. It's about making space for the things that are the most important, and realizing we can let go of the rest.

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